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I mean, I’m just tired of being wrong all the time just because I’m a guy. I mean, how many times can everybody tell you that you’re the oppressive, prejudiced enemy before you give up and become the enemy. I mean, a male chauvinist pig isn’t born, he’s made, and more and more of them are being made by women.
See when the Late Review panel were discussing Fight Club and getting a bug up their nose about the fascist implications of the film, or the mocking tone with regard to therapy groups, I remember watching them fret, kvetch, moan and gibber, thinking to myself ‘they’ve missed the bloody point’ Palahniuk is writing comedy. This stuff is funny. Offensive, shocking and controversial – but funny none the less.
At least I hope he’s being funny.
Victor Mancini is a failed medical student, historical re-enactment performer, conman and sex addict. He schemes and plots to fund his mother’s medical bills, which involves faking choking on a mouthful of steak in restaurants and then hitting up his would-be rescuers for cheques to support him in his hour of need. It’s a decent scam, allowing him to spend his days dressing up in period costumes with his best friend Denny and teaching obnoxious school kids trivia about life in 1734. His sex life is conducted with fellow addicts at their weekly support group. Victor narrates to us his past with his mentally disturbed mother, who kidnapped him on at least several occasions from new sets of foster parents, all in the name of ‘rescuing him from a conventional life’.
Victor’s life is certainly not conventional. Problem is he’s not a nice man.
Unfortunately conning innocents out of their savings can’t pay all of his mother’s medical bills and as her condition deteriorates he is made an outrageous offer by Doctor Paige Marshall. But is she for real, or is Victor himself the victim of a long con?
Palahniuk enjoys drawing out the grottiness of his character’s failed lives. Over and over he insists that we have to stop reading this book, that it’s only going to get worse. Sex addicts are everywhere rutting in public toilets, looking nondescript in their everyday disguises. Victor’s narration introduced me to a new euphemism for the penis, as well as warning of the dangers of mislaying an anal bead. He also speaks in a parody of a medical dictionary, obsessively diagnosing syndromes and cancerous growths, proving that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. His extreme loathing for the boy he was, unknowingly swept up by his mother’s psychosis, seems to lie behind all his failed attempts to be a better man, or a doctor, friend who is needed, perhaps even the second coming of Christ!
Palahniuk’s humour mocks the pretentions of nihilism, its self-pity and refusal to take responsibility. When Victor is having sex a nymphomaniac in a toilet stall with his dog not for one moment does he consider what he is actually doing. His behavior is caused by addiction. He cons people to save his dying mother, whom he secretly hopes will never recover. He adopts different personas when he visits her, as she is too deluded to recognize her own son and spends most of his days pretending to live in 1734.
For this generation of men the greatest failure is to ejaculate prematurely (or in Victor’s words ‘trigger’). Sobriety and self-control are too much to ask of them. Everywhere they see the threat of increasingly dominant women and a mother’s love is never sufficient. Palahniuk is no prophet of doom, however, he’s just offering to smack modern man upside the head shouting wake the hell up!